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Pirates, emperors and the Middle East axes of evil

Watching the United States deploy two aircraft carriers and a major naval strike force to the Middle East to threaten nemeses and help Israel sow death and destruction in Palestine, I am reminded of a story told by St Augustine about a pirate captured by Alexander the Great, who asked him how he dared to molest the sea. “How dare you molest the whole world,” the pirate replied. “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief. You, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.”

Indeed, after two decades of imperial US wars that molested the Middle East, President Joe Biden’s administration is at it again, issuing threats and ultimatums to Palestinian and other resistance groups while shielding its client state, Israel, as it bombs Gaza and reoccupies the rest of Palestine; history be damned. As if millions of US/Israel war casualties were not enough, the American administration is now an enthusiastic accomplice in Israel’s unravelling genocide against besieged Palestinian Arabs in Gaza.

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Like other empires, old and new, America is careful to speak of human rights as it helps decimate human life. It claims to respect the laws of war but continues to provide justifications for the Israeli murder of thousands of Palestinians. The benevolent empire expresses sorrow at the sight of a single dead infant but provides the deadly weapons and the political rationale to slaughter thousands of women and children. Its diplomats preach peace while propagating war.

For decades, America and Israel have been waging asymmetrical wars in the Middle East, where they devastate countless communities and displace millions of people under the pretext of self-defence. They demonise their enemies and dehumanise their victims to justify massive and disproportionate use of firepower, causing as much harm and suffering as possible.

After decades of war, the US and Israel have developed a comprehensive lexicon of newspeak and media guides that highlight the “righteousness” of their cause and the “evilness” of their enemies. They claim, for example, that the Israeli armed forces are “trained, tasked and operate to ensure that Palestinian civilians remain safe”, never mind the countless Palestinian civilian casualties so far in Gaza.

Despite the huge difference between Hamas and al-Qaeda, the fearmongering that followed the 9/11 attacks on the US, which shut down debate and led to catastrophic failures in the following two decades, has been replicated as if nothing has changed. Soon Hamas, a native Islamist resistance movement born out of, and marked by, oppressive occupation, came to be seen as ISIL (ISIS) incarnate – evil, fanatic and brutal – that must be annihilated at any cost.

The American and Israeli narrative is the same; it is as consistent as it is deceptive. Their fight is “on behalf of civilisation against barbarity”, of “good against evil” and “with moral clarity against moral bankruptcy”. Their fight is always in self-defence, their wars always just, their intentions always noble, even altruistic. They fight for democracy and freedom against totalitarianism and terrorism. If their allies are terrorists and dictators, as is often the case, they are swiftly rebranded as freedom fighters and moderates.

Such righteousness would be worthy of respect if only it was honest or true.

The American-Israeli strategic liaison, born during the latter’s 1967 war and occupation, has been the main engine of instability and violence in the region ever since. As the US replaced Europeans as the leading imperial power in the region at the height of the Cold War and became Israel’s patron, it paved the way for an imperial colonial alliance that occupies and subjugates the peoples of the Middle East as well.

The United States designated Israel as a regional policeman in the 1960s, a regional influencer in the 1970s, a strategic asset in the 1980s, and it has since been viewed as being at the forefront of the US war on terrorism. Paradoxically, almost every time Israel rejected an American peace initiative, it was somehow rewarded by a new Pentagon deal and greater military assistance, latest of which topped $38 billion.

For decades now, the US and Israel have demanded that the Arabs choose between Good and Evil and told them they are “either with US or against us” as they wreaked havoc in the region. In 1958, the devil was Egypt’s pan-Arab leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser; in 1968, it became Palestinian guerrilla leader Yasser Arafat; in 1978, Iran’s ayatollah; and when all three were no longer threats, Saddam Hussein emerged as the new devil. Predictably, after Saddam was “contained”, Osama bin Laden became the devil of all devils, until Saddam emerged once again as the chief devil. And since 2008, Iran-supported Hamas and Hezbollah have become the new regional devils that must be defeated once and for all.

This came into full view in the latest Gaza war when the United States redeployed its armadas to the region last month to shield Israel from any potential regional retaliation from the likes of Lebanon’s Hezbollah to allow it to carry out its genocide against the Palestinians in response to Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

Before looking for their next “evil” enemy in the Middle East, and plunge the region into more chaos and violence, the United States and Israel may want to look inwards, for a change, and save us all another horrific war.

Ten thousand dead and tens of thousands of wounded Palestinians later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in the Middle East in an attempt to turn Israel’s war crimes into a diplomatic and strategic successes. Expect the modern-day imperial emissary to coerce the Arab regimes into joining a new Pax Americana revolving around colonial Israel.


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